Detention Equipment Contractors (DECs) are facing opportunities and challenges in the market. New construction is slow, competition is fierce and many jobs need seasoned DECs.
When Unique Security Inc. in Montgomery, Ala., launched in 2009, the company positioned itself into a niche, focusing mainly on preventive maintenance and corrective services, as well as upgrades and integrated system control replacements for county facilities.
Everyone who helps run Unique Security has had decades of experience in the detention market. Before starting the company, co-owner Steve Hart was employed at a leading detention system contractor, where he spent more than 15 years as the service and warranty manager. Lonnie Mosier, another co-owner, spent more than 21 years in the industry, working for the same detention system contractor as Steve Hart.
Unique Security’s third owner, Gary Hart, who previously worked with Steve and Lonnie, joined the company in 2011 and has more than 30 years of contracting experience, working on commercial, industrial and institutional projects, and 23 years of experience working in the detention industry. He also brought his knowledge of international contracting, which has helped to expand Unique Security’s service scope. His responsibilities include electrical estimating, engineering, project engineering and project management.
All three owners, as well as most of the staff, worked together for several years prior to establishing Unique Security. In their time with other firms, the owners recognized that by starting their own company, they could provide a higher level of customer service leveraged by years of experience and expertise in the detention market.
“We saw a market sector that would be profitable that wasn’t being properly serviced in a timely manner or very cost-effective way,” Gary said. “They were not providing long-term and timely servicing of their own projects or providing workable cost-effective solutions to those facilities. A lot of companies would rather replace the entire control system rather than replacing only the unserviceable or obsolete systems and parts. It isn’t necessary to always replace the entire system. We are able to respond with workable solutions that met [the facility’s] needs and budget. Our reputation and hard work has provided us opportunities to do new construction both as a detention equipment contractor and as an electronics systems integrator. We have also completed military and corporate security system projects.”
Unique Security operates mainly in the eastern U.S., reaching as far west as Missouri and, occasionally, internationally. The core of its business is working on existing facilities that require preventive maintenance, upgrades and support that will help extend the life of detention products.
If a facility needs systems integration, the staff at Unique Security can help with discrete card systems, PLC and PC-based head-end equipment. The company offers integrated control-room systems, featuring touch-screen stations for closed-circuit television (CCTV), intercom, card access, locking control, personnel duress, perimeter detection and management systems.
The security company can also upgrade hardware or electronic security equipment. The company is available to provide corrective or emergency repair service and offers customized preventive maintenance contracts on a quarterly, semi-annually or once-a-year basis.
“There are tons of small and large facilities out there. Some state and county agencies have facilities that are 25 or 30 years old, and replacement parts can’t be found, or the systems integrator that did the install is no longer in business,” Gary said. “We can go in and provide those services, troubleshoot and, often times, decipher the existing program so that either part of the system can be replaced and integrated back into the original control system, or we’ll even offer to upgrade their existing system.”
Unique Security is a small operation with only 14 full-time employees, but the staff has more than 150 years combined experience working in correctional markets, according to Gary.
“That core staff has experience in all phases of a project, from design, pre-construction and estimating to project engineering and programming to fabrication and installation and to the post-warranty, service and project renovation and upgrade,” Gary said. “We’ve been involved in some of the most complex security systems that have ever been installed in correctional facilities.”
The work that the company does can get very intricate. Unique Security’s staff has experience working with complex electronic control stations in multiple housing units that are networked together back into a central control system that includes various perimeter detection systems, intercommunication systems, duress systems, and exterior and interior CCTV cameras, which are all connected back to a central network.
In five years, Gary has never seen a slowdown in business. For the first two years, most of the company’s time was spent on preventive maintenance and service-contract work, which turned into a lot of add-on work, system replacements and eventually into new construction. The business has been profitable since its inception and has maintained steady year-over-year growth.
Gary is particularly proud of the work that Unique Security has done overseas and being able to overcome the obstacles that are presented with that particular type of business. In the past, he has been able to develop lasting relationships with internationally known architectural and engineering firms and various owners from county, state, federal and international government agencies.
“Working overseas presents its own set of challenges, more so than a project in the States. The pursuit of the project and the negotiation process have always proven to be challenging. The negotiation process is always interesting and challenging with language barriers and trying to set up contracts in a way that you’re going to receive timely payments and make sure that you’re going to get your final payment when the project is completed,” he said. “We work with local contractors to do most of our installation work internationally, and their construction methods and materials are vastly different than what we’re accustomed to in the States. It requires a lot of communication and coordination on the front end of the project as well as during the close to ensure that you’re getting a quality product and still meeting the end user’s expectations.”
When looking ahead for the company, Gary acknowledged there’s a lot of opportunity in other areas, but serving specific regions has been so successful for Unique Security that the business is hesitant to grow too much and too fast. If the company overextends its capacity, he worries this may hurt relationships with clients, which is a top priority.
“The main challenge for us is trying to maintain focus and not to overcommit ourselves by taking on more business than we can complete in a timely manner or to our customers’ satisfaction. We feel there’s plenty of business in the markets we’re in, but a company like ours doesn’t really want to grow too fast and not be able to meet a customer’s expectations or complete a project in a timely manner. Obviously, every company wants to be profitable, but one of the reasons we got into the business was because we saw opportunities that we didn’t think were being serviced properly by other companies.”
Comparatively, Unique Security is a boutique DEC, competing with firms that have 10 times the amount of staff. But the type of services offered have been so well received throughout the company’s specialty regions that Gary doesn’t see it as good business to expand.
“We’re pretty selective in the projects we pursue and we’re trying to control our growth,” he said. “We still want to continue to grow our preventive maintenance and service contract work, and increasing those type projects is very profitable and generates reoccurring revenue when you’re in between projects or doing new construction or renovation-type work. It fills in the valleys in our revenue.”
The West Coast, particularly California, has been booming with new prison and jail construction, but Gary said he wants to keep the business close to home.
“I’ve been in the business close to 30 years now, and I’ve watched the market trends and know the West Coast is full of projects, but that’s an area that we’re really not interested in pursuing. We will look at opportunities further west on a case-by-case basis, but there’s enough work in our region that provides us with a lot of controlled growth potential without having to go across the United States,” he said.
Company Name: Unique Security Inc.
Headquarters: Montgomery, Ala.
Specialty: Security upgrades, preventive maintenance, integration systems and services to facilities within the detention industry
Motto: “Provide cost-effective security services and solutions that are tried and tested using products that ensure customer satisfaction.”